Monday, June 26, 2006

mint infusion: summer comfort food II

Crush a large sprig or two of mint with a rolling pen, just enough to “bruise” the leaves, as the cookbooks say. Toss it in a jar of drinking water. Add a pretty slice of lemon, if you have one, and some ice, or don’t—it’s fine with no frills. The longer it “brews,” the more minty it tastes. Drink up and refill the water—the next batch will taste delicious, too. Your sprigs are good for a whole day’s worth of water. Your big Nalgene water bottle may never be the same.

I didn’t grow up with herbs. The running joke about “how you know you are a Hoosier” includes the list of spices in an Indiana kitchen: salt, pepper, and ketchup. When I lived in Erie, I raved about tabouli from a new restaurant, and Keith Sundberg walked me out to a Biblical Herb Garden, surrounding my house—a garden filled with any herb mentioned in the Bible that would also grow in North America. Beneath the water spigot in my own back yard was green, green spearmint.

“How will I know if I’m picking the right plant?” I asked.

“Pick a stem, right now. Smell it.” My eyes flew open, a revelation. “That’s what was in the tabouli!” He showed me the parsley for tabouli, also, and the rosemary and thyme for chicken soup. And a dozen others. “All of these herbs have been growing right here around my house, all along?”

“Yep. You should look in the library for a tabouli recipe—any Middle Eastern herbs should be right here, if you need them.” I didn’t need to go to the library—I found the best tabouli recipe in my own Moosewood Cookbook, right in my kitchen.

Tabouli is pretty easy, though there is much chopping involved. But an infusion of mint in drinking water? A no-frills, no calorie treat. My mind traces a line right back to that water spigot in the Biblical Herb Garden, a treasure beneath my own nose and deliciously free. And my mind traces a beeline to my backyard, where I grow spearmint and chocolate mint. It spreads like the dickens. I like that in a plant.

Stay hydrated!

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